In the course of a blog tour to promote my debut novel, “The Heir,” I’ve been asked more than once what advice I have for aspiring writers. I hardly know why anybody would ask me such a thing. I have ONE book on the shelves, and that’s it. My experience and wisdom are quite, quite limited, so please take anything I say on the matter with more than a grain of salt.
Having offered the requisite disclaimer, however, I do have some suggestions (and will be blogging about this on the next few Mondays), the first being to write more than you aspire to write. I went to my first writer’s conference because I had turned fifty, and while I was having great good fun writing and writing, I wanted to know if my stuff had a shot at publication.
No, that’s not quite accurate: I hoped my stuff was good enough for commercial consumption, and understood that I could learn to pitch editors and agents at conferences. I shook my piggy bank, signed up for some conferences, and prepared to be brave. Within the first hour, I had the sense everybody was farther along the curve toward publication than I was. The other attendees quoted craft books to each other, reminisced about workshops where they’d learned so much, debated the strengths of various critique approaches, and went into raptures about this or that person’s query letter.
They dropped the names of editors and agents and houses and lines like publishing romance was a major league sport of which they were all fans and I had not the clue. I kept my head down, and my backside tucked in, and tried to learn as much as I could, but it was daunting.
What I learned was that completing twenty novel length manuscripts in a few years wasn’t normal. I concluded my stuff was probably not worth much, because I’d churned it out too quickly. I learned that writing that much without a critique group or even a partner wasn’t smart, it being accepted wisdom that I’d make more progress faster if I had either, or better still, both. I concluded that I’d been remiss, and started casting around for some people who could read and improve my drafts.
I learned that everybody with any substance at all as a fiction writer has a preferred plotting device, whether it’s GMC charts (goal/motivation/conflict), story boards, or archetypal heroic journey constructs. They have character development tools, and writing plans, and word count goals, and all manner of writerly paraphernalia. I concluded that I didn’t know jack, and I’d better start over and try again and get with the program here, or my laughable little attempts at telling a love story were never going to go anywhere.
All of which lasted a few weeks, before I was back writing and writing, having a great time—no crit groups, no craft books, no plot devices, just me and my computer and my imagination. At the next year’s conference, I decided to start pitching. The first person I pitched ended up offering me a nine book deal.
My point is not that you should toss out the craft books, abandon the crit groups, and jettison the plotting devices. If they work for you, hang onto to them with all your strength. My point is that you and only you will know if something makes the writing better, or simply wastes your time and energy, bewilders you, and saps your confidence and joy in the writing process, while providing a bunch of other—well intended, perfectly nice—people who are not you something to talk about when they’re having a grand time not really writing. Don’t aspire to write. Write.